Gardening with Georgia

Archive - December 2009

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Holiday flowers are really tropical bulbs, so plant them

Tue, Dec 29, 2009 at 09:29:18 AM

This year’s amaryllis (Hippeastrum cultivars) have produced spectacular flowers for the holidays. What to do with them when the flowers fade? Plant them in the garden

This amaryllis, a Hippeastrum
cultivar, is called Papilio.

I have always loved these flowers, and now have them in beds throughout my garden. They don’t bloom at Christmas, but in the spring. Last year, some of mine began to open in February. Others waited for a couple of months. So the show is on-going.

All you need is a well-draining area of the garden that receives partial shade. I have bulbs that receive morning or afternoon light, but not midday sun.  Plant the bulbs so that the top quarter peeps out of the soil, and in a group with about a foot between each bulb for a wonderful show. While they like excellent drainage (bulbs will rot if too wet), they also like mulch and some improved soil. I seldom add organic matter to the planting hole, but I do put a little bulb food in the bottom before inserting the bulb.  (This is a 7-10-5 with 2.3 percent iron.)  However, I’ve found that the plants do nicely on palm special fertilizer that I use on most of the rest of the garden.

I don’t dig them up in the fall. They multiply well without digging. I have transplanted bulbs, and the leaves will lay flat for a couple of days before righting themselves. I noticed the other day that new leaves about 4 inches long are now appearing in my largest bulb planting, spreading on their own.

Some of the bulbs belonged to my father, and it always is a delight to have them flower every year.

Dancing Queen is a double.

Others are from a dear friend who gives them as gifts every year. Some are species, given to me by Don Evans a few years ago, and still others are those I have ordered from John Scheepers, Inc., a Connecticut company that imports large bulbs from the Netherlands.

I seldom have any problems with them, but I stay on the alert for snails in the rainy season. The succulent Hippeastrum leaves are high on the list of gourmet dining for snails and slugs. Grasshoppers go for them as well. There is a fungal disease called leaf scorch that may discolor leaves and attack the bulbs, but with enough sunlight, this seldom occurs.



Colors of the season

Tue, Dec 22, 2009 at 09:12:05 AM



 Maybe it’s just me, but I keep noticing red and white flowers this month that resonate with the holiday season.

White candles.

Just beyond the visitors Center in Plot 50 is a shrub that holds up charming white flowers,  a Whitfieldia, or white candles. It hails from the rainforests of Africa but makes a lovely guest in South Florida. Dark green leaves set off the panicles of flowers that are held upright, resembling candles. The flowers are tubular, emerging from fuzzy white bracts.

 Whitfieldia likes some midday shade, particularly in our summers, and can develop bleached out leaves if it gets too much exposure. Otherwise, since it originates in seasonally wet forests, it takes to our climate nicely. Use controlled-release palm fertilizer three times a year, and if yellowing occurs that is not due to too much sun, apply chelated iron.

Also near the Visitors Center are several lovely specimens of

Flame of Jamaica.

Flame of Jamaica, Euphorbia punicea, holding up what might be holiday bows on their branches. Strategically planted in full sun next to white candles in one instance and little Christmas flower (Euphorbia leucocephala) in another, the red bracts surround small yellow flowers. The Euphorbia punicea bracts, which vary in color from pinkish-red to deep red, are fewer in number than on a poinsettia, and not as large, but this is a tidier plant that can reach tree-size and so produces a larger, if more subdued, display. It was a Fairchild 2008 Plant of the Year, and with good reason. It takes well to our limestone soil and doesn’t require special care. Plus, it attracts warblers and honeybees. Always a good thing.




Garden of delights

Wed, Dec 16, 2009 at 10:45:43 AM




These flowers bloom by day
as well as night.

With Nessie rising from Center Lake and Big Foot stomping out of the rainforest, with giant polka dotted flowers and pumpkins delighting the eye, the garden is brimming over with color, life and liveliness these days.

Sweet almond bush is blooming at several locations around the garden, including the butterfly garden. It is Aloysia virgata, a member of the verbena family. Its aroma is rather noticeable, as if a cloud of fragrance hovers above each shrub.  It’s a lanky plant, one that grows to about 8 feet or more, but it can be pruned regularly if good behavior is among the criteria you impose on plant life. Bees and butterflies are attracted to the tiny white flowers on the long racemes. A palmedes butterfly danced around it in the late morning Monday.

Cordia globosa is another white-flowering shrub that can draw butterflies and skippers. An atala was drinking his/her fill when we passed by. Cordia globosa is a Florida native and is sometimes called butterfly sage. It has small sand-papery leaves and a mind of its own when it comes to shape. Many butterfly plants lean and sway: salvia, pentas, asters, the weeds of the field that are closer their origins than plants we have wired and staked and trained.

Honeybees were working on the candy corn plant, which is Moullava spicata (Wagatea

Candy corn plant hosts a honeybee.

spicata) from India and Africa. Orange and yellow flower spikes are calling out to passers-by on Old Cutler Road as well. This plant has lots of prickles, so look but don’t touch. It doesn’t climb so much as it hooks onto things.

Space ship or hibiscus from

One plant that’s flowering now is Hibiscus grandidieri var. greveanus from Madagascar. Its charming red flowers are about the size of a ping-pong ball, and the pistils and stamens emerge from the bottom, as the flower dangles upside down. It looks like a tiny UFO about to land with its many delicate landing legs ready to absorb the shock. 

Even with recent heat, winter here is a wonderland.



Winter white in the garden

Tue, Dec 08, 2009 at 09:36:29 AM

A brilliant blue sky perfectly sets off the charm
of Euphorbia leucocephala, the little
Christmas flower.

Call it little Christmas flower, snowbush or snowflake, or flor de leche, this shrub is in full glory now in the garden.  Several together are dazzling in their showiness, especially when seen against a deep blue winter sky.

Euphorbia leucocephala, a poinsettia relative, is as dependable as its red cousin when it comes to telling us the season. Delicate white bracts surround tiny green flowers, just as red bracts surround the bundles of flowers, or cyathia, on poinsettias.  This lovely shrub near the Visitors Center, which has a delicate perfume, is actually native to Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador. It’s twigs, which produce whorls of leaves, are slender and delicate, and may lean under the weight of so many flowers. The “leucocephala” part of its name means “white head.”

The good news: It takes average water and fertilizer in an area with good drainage. Grow it in full sun and prune after it flowers to keep it shapely. As with the poinsettia, you may want to prune this a couple of times before fall.

From a distance, the shrubs are dazzling.